Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v (E - E)
The Leningrad Album fact sheet for la Biennale di Venezia
The 150 drawings displayed at “The Encyclopedic Palace” have been personally selected by Massimiliano Gioni, curator of the 55th International Art Exhibition. He first chose them for the large “Ostalgia” exhibition at the New Museum, New York, in 2011.
The book edition of 2003 (Konkursbuchverlag, edited by Hannelore Fobo as the curator of Evgenij Kozlov’s work) bears the subtitle “We are on our way to school / singing songs hip and cool”. It contains 108 drawings, partly two-sided, with the texts on the (reproduced) drawings translated into German and English, as well as small reproductions of the other drawings and an epilogue in German, English, and Russian. The book is on sale at the bookshop of the Biennale.
Ink is the predominant medium. In the later drawings ballpoint pen, pencil, crayon and eraser (to create white shades) have also been used. On the reverse the ink drawings show through as a weak print, and sometimes stories or other elements have been added. Therefore the drawings can be considered two-sided (see the reverse of the pages in the book edition).
The artistic evolution shows a growing complexity of interrelations between the figures. The number of figures increases and a young artist, presumably the alter ego of Evgenij Kozlov, eventually appears in the scenes. This is accompanied by longer texts; elaborate dialogues continue on the reverse, and some pages consist of dialogues and songs only. Texts develop the story to a considerable degree, but they are also interesting as graphic elements.
A boy dreams that the girls dream about him and he starts drawing … the beauty of the bodies, the clever faces, the comical dialogues, […] the affectionately created details of the interior, with its typical sixties and seventies furnishings, with the artistically draped garments, the stylish tape recorder playing the newest hits, and the meditative view through the window into the silvery, satin, marble night of Leningrad…
(from the book cover)
The drawings show the spiritual awakening of a young artist within the polarity of the sexes, his desire to embrace life in its most abundant potential, praising the beauty of the human body.
The young artists invites his classmates Ira, Sveta, Rosa, Mila, Olga, Katya and his female teachers in order to draw them, but in fact they are the driving forces in this game: they want to be drawn by him because he loves their individual beauty and proves this with his drawings. This is demonstrated by the comment of a model while looking at a book with illustrations from old masters: “But Goya is great, you can see right away that she [Goya’s model] liked him. The others – they’re OK I guess. All they did is simply draw pictures.” Model and artist admire each other and therefore the drawings are devoid of voyeurism; they are explicit and innocent at the same time.
Time and place are specific yet the feelings of the teenagers are universal. In the drawings they are expressed by the songs of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, their favorite music when meeting – the “YEAH YEAH” which was feared by parents all over the world for its disinhibiting effect. “E-E”, the Russian transliteration of “YEAH YEAH”, later became Evgenij Kozlov’s artist name, which he has used as his signature for his works of art ever since 2005.
As a matter of fact the Leningrad Album goes beyond time and place. This becomes apparent in the last page, showing a young artist drawing in a book (book page 129/130). The text on the front and reverse of the page reads. "Favorite book?! dedicated to all youth and men in the world throughout the XXI, XXVI, XXXIX and LXIV centuries".
In an interview with Hannelore Fobo in 2011 Massimiliano Gioni explained why he chose the Leningrad Album for “Ostalgia”. In this context he already uses the term “encyclopedic” to describe the significance of the drawings.
Maybe it is no coincidence that the first extensive presentation of the “Leningrad Album” in Europe is taking place in Venice, where in 1725 Giacomo Casanova was born, whose name has become a synonym for desire and seduction. Desire and seduction are also the themes of the drawings in the Leningrad album. It may seem strange to compare the memories of this famous adventurer of the 18th century, acquainted with the social and spiritual elite of Europe – among them Catherine the Great of Russia and Voltaire –, with the experience (M. Gioni calls it “fantasies”) of a young boy living in the rather prudish and secluded society of Soviet Russia.
If reflected upon on a deeper level, however, we will see that for both of them “desire” is not in the first place a force to fulfill sexual needs but Eros, the power to transcend the human being through love and beauty. Eros is the desire to re-establish what was once united, the masculine-feminine wholeness before it was divided into two halves. Religions and philosophers speak of this. Eros, ultimately, is alchemy, a process of transforming substance to gain a higher level of existence. Casanova was also an alchemist, and the alchemy of the “Leningrad Album” is based on what I defined in 1991 as “art of the future”: “to make a true work of art, so that the observer is able to see and understand it, the artist must first achieve a certain state called ‘the art of the future’, which is the richness of desires and the desire for these – riches.“
While the “Leningrad Album” had not been inspired by any specific work and has no “predecessors”, the publication of the 2003 print edition has clearly influenced and helped develop one of Evgenij Kozlov’s main artistic projects: “Век ХХ” (”Vek XX” / ”Century XX“), dedicated to the twentieth century. “Century XX” has two parts, with part one consisting of 80 collages (1989 – 2008) and part two (2008 – today, unfinished) of more than 450 original graphic works and the same number of imprints of the drawings on transparent paper (“light boxes”). For the 55th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia Evgenij Kozlov and I have edited a special book of the first part which is available at the library space.
Век ХХ (“Century XX”, part one) is a series of drawings combined with script, poems and collages which Evgenij Kozlov had begun in 1989 in the style of the Leningrad art group “New artists”, of which he was a member. Originally the pages of a scrapbook, they were cut from the binding, obtaining a total of 39 two-sided (single or double) pages plus the covers inside and outside.